Rashad Evans (20-3-1, 13-3-1 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (29-13-1, 7-6 UFC), at UFC 167
The co main event of the evening features 2 tough veterans, both from a wrestling background and both have spent time at or near the top of their division(s) for years.
Ultimate Fighter season 2 winner Rashad Evans has been of the most successful cast members of the show to compete in the UFC, if not the most successful. After winning the show at heavyweight Rashad immediately dropped to 205 lbs and went on a pretty serious tear through the division remaining unbeaten (1 draw) through his first 9 fights in the promotion and capturing the LHW title in the process. At that point when Rashad was the champ there should’ve been no doubt that he was the best LHW fighter on earth, he was really looking that good. Each fight leading up to his title shot saw Rashad get better and more dangerously well rounded. Always a great wrestler in MMA, Rashad finished fights via brutal ground and pound (Lambert), brutal head kick (Salmon), brutal punching power (Liddell), and when he took the belt from Forrest Griffin he put it all together in a gutsy performance that culminated in a dominant GnP finish. Unfortunately Rashad’s 1st title defense was a prime Lyoto Machida and he lost the belt by getting KO’d. Rashad resumed his winning ways after losing the belt and even made his way back to another title shot against P4P great Jon Jones but was unsuccessful. Although he hasn’t looked his best since, Rashad is still as skilled as almost any fighter in his division but personal turmoil seems to have taken its toll some. He can still hit hard, wrestle well, and go 5 hard rounds, it’s just a matter of regaining that momentum and confidence that made him champion. With his new MMA team “The Blackzillians” starting to pick up steam, at 34 years of age, and with the LHW division not quite as scary looking as it was a couple years ago, Rashad has to make a move now and forget about these uninspiring performances he put in his last 2 fights.
Lucky for Rashad, or maybe unlucky for Rashad, he will be facing a man that will give him no choice but to fight hard or get beat. Veteran Chael Sonnen is one of the better wrestlers competing in MMA today and has faced a ton of good fighters over the years, beating most and losing only to champions and #1 contenders almost exclusively. He has high level experience in Greco roman, freestyle, and folk style wrestling competition and uses all of it in the cage very effectively. Not only that, but Chael is among the small group of high level wrestlers to fully embrace submission grappling. Starting with his training under the legend wrestler and BJJ convert Mark Schultz, and then moving onto the teachings of top BJJ guys like Joao Asis, Fabiano Scherner, and Vinny Magalhaes, Chael has looked better and better with his hybrid grappling and if he continues to pursue this type of fighting and training it could mean big trouble for future opponents. Chael’s striking is basic but can be effective (we saw him rock Anderson Silva) and he combines it with a certain fearlessness that can cause opponents to be thrown off a little. Chael comes in great shape, is strong, and even at 205 will not be small for the division. Chael’s biggest weakness is arguably his mental lapses that have caused him to lose confidence at crucial moments or apply ill advised techniques at the worst times. His efforts to combat this are well known and lately he does appear to have all his facilities on board for fights.
It feels like forever since Rashad was really impressive in the Octagon and we rarely see a fighter at his fighting age re-discover their previous form once they’ve lost it. Chael has been more consistent with his performances lately and may be in the process of adding a new, dangerous, element to his already formidable game. Chael wins this by decision, maybe, just maybe, by submission.